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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2007-2008 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we still want to give you a heads up on what you should - and shouldn't - keep on your radar in the coming months.
And as an added bonus this year, each day we'll also take a look at one of the pilots that didn't make the cut. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
BONUS FIRST LOOK: AREA 57 (NBC)
(pilot not ordered to series)
The network's description: "Taking on the challenge of a classified mission in a top-secret location is hard enough. Throw in a dysfunctional crew that despises you and an alien that makes fun of you and you've got one bizarre challenge on your hands. So what if Colonel Steven Isaac's new career move turns out to be more punishment than promotion? He's ready for it. Foul extraterrestrial bodily emissions? No problem. Random objects falling from the sky? He's got it covered. Dirty looks and dirtier rumors? No worries. The laughs are all in a day's work in this unique comedy."
What did they leave out: It has to be the most bizarre pilot I've seen this year.
The plot in a nutshell: United States Air Force Colonel Steven Isaac (Matthew Lillard) has finally received the promotion he's waited his whole life for - helping unravel the mysteries of the universe at the famed Bridelake facility in Nevada. Helping fuel his enthusiasm is the revelation from his boss General Keller (Bruce McGill) that their facility has been home to an extraterrestrial dubbed ECA-653 (Paul Reubens) for the past 40 years. Unfortunately for him, said alien has apparently just died - a fact that the staff, much to Steven's shock, celebrates as if an iron-fisted dictator has been removed. Luckily (or unluckily actually) for them, Steven accidentally spills his coffee on the alien and he/it awakens from what's revealed to be a sleep cycle. And sure enough, Steven learns what the fuss was all about. The alien - think Paul Reubens with a giant skull cap and inset ears - is actually just one giant pain in the ass. He/it spends its days eating of caviar, drinking straight vodka and generally bugging the shit of the staff. Among his/its feats - making a guy believe a cow could pick lotto numbers and getting another's male dog pregnant. Steven however naively still believes he's/it's a revelation to be treated with respect. That is until he/it starts messing with him - whether it be making Keller's assistant (Jane Lynch) think she's being sexually harassed by Steven or giving him a "radioactive" token of good will. You see, it turns out the Air Force hasn't learned anything from the alien in the past 40 years - they're just there as inmates in his/its asylum. Believe it or not, that's pretty much it.
What works: As far as going down as one of the most bizarre and borderline incomprehensible pilots this year, its mission has been accomplished. As far as being enjoyable to watch...
What doesn't: ...that's an entirely different story. Like "SNL" skit that runs too long, "Area 57" thinks it has the funniest joke ever - the military is housing an alien that's as far from "E.T." as possible - and proceeds to run it into the ground over the course of 22 minutes. Among its biggest offenses - having characters randomly run into frame screaming or having giant objects fall from the sky. It's a joke - things are crazy there! - that passes as mildly amusing at first but after the 15th time gets beyond old. It's a shtick that unfortunately bleeds into the actual plot as well - Steven naively believes in the alien, the alien then proceeds to humiliate him, wash, rinse repeat - enough that one wonders how it can make 22 minutes of material, let alone 22 episodes a season. To its credit though, Dean Parisot ("Galaxy Quest") gives the action an immensely slick, feature-esque look, one that unfortunately draws even more attention to the one-joke script.
The bottom line: A one-joke miss that flies completely off the rails.